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by Elaine K Howley

June 27, 2020

The ALTS student produced a series of fun and serious social media videos that illustrate what it meant for her to learn to swim

When Melissa Bankard bought a new home in the Dallas/Fort Worth area about a year ago, it came with a pool. That pool would normally be a great addition to any home in a warm climate, but for Bankard it was a source of anxiety. “I realized that to get from my backdoor to the garden, I had to tiptoe ’round the pool,” she says. She was afraid of falling in because she didn’t know how to swim.

The 40-year-old insurance agent and social media marketer had tried to learn to swim before. “My mother had attempted to put me in lessons when I was 7 and 8, but it was an awful experience. I failed twice and remember thinking, ‘Maybe some people are molecularly designed to swim, and some people aren’t.’ I didn’t know how to float, and swimming seemed very complex and intimidating. So that was that,” she recalls.

But the new home and the pool in the backyard forced the issue. “I thought, ‘I can’t go my whole life like this.’ I have three children, and in case of an emergency I could do nothing to help them. I probably should learn to swim.”

It was around that same time that Bankard saw an ad on Facebook promoting Texas Ford Aquatics’ adult learn-to-swim program. Texas Ford Aquatics was running a special January ALTS program and was looking for a limited number of adults who wanted to swim. Bankard saw this as a prime opportunity and made an audition tape to be selected for one of the slots. (Bankard has a real knack for creating fun and memorable social media videos for her business, so it made sense to apply those skills to this challenge.)

Bankard was accepted and started her lessons in January, documenting and sharing aspects of her quest to learn to swim in a series of videos along the way. From a wetsuit zipper that broke moments before her first lesson and cobbling together a replacement swimsuit to trying to figure out how an in-water headphone set works, Bankard has shared humorous and relatable snippets of her ALTS journey, fearlessly offering a window into the world of a fearful nonswimmer stretching to overcome a once insurmountable obstacle.

One video post in particular resonated with a lot of viewers. Four lessons into her nine-lesson program, she had successfully swum 25 meters across the pool for the first time in her life. In a teary and sweet dashboard confessional, Bankard expressed her gratitude for finally being able to overcome her fear of the water and achieving something she wasn’t sure she’d ever actually be able to do.

“I feel like I’ve almost cheated myself out of so many water-related activities over the years because I was so afraid,” she says. But now, water-safe and unafraid, she’s ready for what comes next—lots more swimming and hanging out by the pool. “Taking away that fear of being around water was the biggest takeaway of learning to swim. It freed me from being confined and not being able to participate in water parks or pools. Even a lazy river caused some anxiety, and it’s nice to have more confidence.”

Not just less fearful of the water, Bankard is embracing her newfound love of the water and budding swimming skills for lifelong fitness. “When I would watch movies and people would be doing laps, it just seemed so romantic and inspiring,” she says. “It seemed unattainable.” But suddenly, with the help of Texas Ford Aquatics’ adult learn-to-swim program, all of that is now within reach for Bankard.

“I want to be one of those swimmers who goes to the pool and does laps for 30 minutes for fitness and weight management. As you get older, your metabolism slows down, but if I can learn to swim for fitness, that can be my fitness regimen rather than things like running that are hard on your joints. People who are 70 and 80 can still swim, so I should learn now so I can be able to have that fitness and health option,” she says.

And not just for lap swimming. Now Bankard can embrace in-water fitness and HIIT classes that are easier on the joints but provide a killer workout.

As of mid-February, Bankard was quickly moving towards that goal. She had progressed to comfortably swimming 75 meters at a time and was preparing to try out for the pre-Masters group with Texas Ford Aquatics. “I’m really excited about that,” she says.

She’s eager to see what other doors swimming will open up to her. “Once you learn to swim, there’s so many more opportunities to enjoy life more,” Bankard says. She’s already thinking about an upcoming trip to Disney World with her family. Instead of “watching from a lounge chair and purposely removing myself from fun situations because I didn’t learn to swim like everyone else, I can go to Disney and go into the pool,” she says.

Learning to swim with Texas Ford Aquatics, which received a grant from the USMS Swimming Saves Lives Foundation this year, has revolutionized Bankard’s life. Now, she’s looking forward to opening her backyard pool this spring and fully enjoying her new house and the exercise and entertainment opportunities that are sitting right in her backyard. “I was done tiptoeing around the pool,” she says.


  • Adult Learn-to-Swim


  • ALTS
  • SSLF